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From Princess to Prizefighter

Here's a secret: I'm not original. I was like every other little girl in the 1990s, idolizing Disney princesses, wanting to join their ranks. Seeing as my favorite was Pocahontas, what I really wanted to do was talk to animals and jump off waterfalls, but, seeing as I was four years old and not animated, that never really happened.

It's completely normal for kids to watch movies and want to embody their favorite characters, whether they be princesses, super heroes, secret agents, etc. If an adult walks up to a microphone, though, and says they want to be Superman, eyebrows will probably raise (unless, of course, that adult is Robert Downey Jr. Sadly, though, we can't all be RDJ).

That's why, after watching Raging Bull for the first time, the strange desire I had to be a boxer made me feel, for lack of a better term, goofy. I was 19 years old at the time and well past the stage of being able to play on the playground without looks of judgment from passersby. So why did that "make-believe" part of my brain get activated again?

That feeling died down until I watched Southpaw a few months ago. All of a sudden, I was looking up rates for boxing gyms and attempting to kickbox (the sport of the future) in my tiny apartment. Still, I didn't get it. Maybe it was Jake Gyllenhaal who influenced me.

This certainly isn't a feeling I have with all sports movies. Longtime readers of this blog will know that sports movies bore me. Team is down on its luck, team meets someone who inspires them to be better, team faces ultimate obstacle, team comes out of game/match with a new sense of confidence, friendship, and even possibly a trophy. It's formulaic. It bores me.

Boxing movies, I've come to find, aren't that formulaic. They tell people's stories, not teams. While, admittedly, they may have similar story arcs, the stories are individualized. This became even more apparent, when, as an experiment, I watched Rocky for the first time.

I'd never watched the movie before last night because I was scared of just what I was talking about: that this story would be just like all the ones I've ever heard about. It would follow the formula and I would get bored and boxing movies would be ruined. Just the opposite happened, though.

I want to be a boxer again.

I wanted to get to the bottom of this feeling. That's part of the reason I watched Rocky: to see if a completely different story about a completely different boxer in a completely different place would have the same effect. When I felt that feeling coming on, I noticed something. All three stories are about individual triumph.

Whereas a team has a support system built in, the boxers are alone. Their families mooch off them, their communities brand them as bums, and, when they enter the ring, they fight alone. They're often raised in poor neighborhoods, but they have the ambition that all of us dream to have, the drive to keep literally and figuratively trying.

Audiences can relate to feeling isolated. It happens to all of us, and when we see that onscreen, our humanity is reflected back at us. Deep in everyone, there is a desire to feel wanted and accepted, to succeed, and we project our own desire on characters who feel the same. We root for them. Their success is our success.

There's also a kind of theatricality in boxing that plays on this human need for attention. Whether the character is arrogant like Jake La Motta or humble like Rocky Balboa, the satisfaction of seeing our hero's name in lights feels like one of our own dreams achieved. Being recognized as someone great, getting on the marquee, hearing your name on the radio: we all want to be known as exceptional. We see ourselves in these heroes and when they reach the top, we see ourselves there, too. Why do you think so many people climb the Rocky steps?

Maybe I still think it's weird that I want to be a boxer, especially considering my royal life goals from 15 years ago, but I sure am okay with cheering on success. Fight on, y'all.

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